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Full text of "Alexander von Humboldt"

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170                          :LIFE oi1
and Mars.    He can, however, give no explanation of
the material dimensions of this ring., of its enlarge-
ment by the exhalations from the tails of the many
myriads of comets which approach the sun ; he can
give no positive account of the strange variations in
its   extent,   which   sometimes   seems   to   stretch   far
beyond the course of our earth, nor of its supposed
connexion with the dense ether surrounding the su.n.
He   presumes   that   the   aerious parts   of this   ring
which, according to planetary laws, revolve round the
sun, are either self-luminous;, or only illuminated by
the sun.    That bodies may exist in a self-luminous
state, HuxnTboldt proves "by the fact that., in the year
1743., a terrestrial vapouring, during the new moon
time, was so phosphorescent in the night, that objects
could be distinguished by its light at a distance of 600
feet.    In the year 1831 also, the nights were so extra-
ordinarily   light., that  in  northern   Germany,   small
print could be read at midnight; and at the same
time the morning and evening twilight were unusually
lengthened.    When Humboldt was living in the Ame-
rican tropics, he often wondered at the varying degree
of illumination in the zodiacal light, especially when,
for months he was spending the nights in the open air,
in the prairies, and on the river shores. At that tinae, he
often perceived vibrations and scintillations, and he
believes that these are especially dependent on the
evolution of light on the boundaries of our terrestrial
atmosphere.
We have hesitatingly foEowed Humboldt so far
into Ms higher phase of natural appreciation, in which
lie not only feels the regularity of nature in the soul,
but perceives and acknowledges it. We have followed
his traces at a great distance,, because we feared other-
wise to neglect our purpose of a general survey in the
profoundness of his scientific reasonings. But in his
surveys of the starred sky, he refers to the picturesque
gracefulness of the firmament, and calls his readers''
attention to the position of the constellations, and
their dependence on the eternal regular courses and